Times are changing, people. Online therapy, or teletherapy, is the new normal even before social distancing days. One element of virtual therapy is therapy via text, which has also increasingly become more popular. Text-based therapy is exactly what it sounds like—it’s the ability to text your therapist at any time for support. You can think of it like having a therapist in your pocket.
Some licensed therapists offer text message support in addition to regular in-person or virtual sessions. There are also apps and platforms such as Talkspace and BetterHelp that allow users to get therapy exclusively via text.
Curious to give this therapy via text a go? Keep reading to learn about its features and benefits, cons in comparison to traditional therapy, and who its best for.
3 features of therapy via text
Ability to solve problems in real-time
One of the pros of text therapy is the ability to get support from your therapist when you need it rather than having to wait until your next appointment.
“Many patients have to wait weeks to see their therapist but having access all the time would allow quicker turnaround time for solving problems,” says Lori Whatley, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, relational therapist, and author of Connected & Engaged: How to Manage Digital Distractions and Reconnect with the World Around You.
Amy Cirbus, Ph.D., LMHC, LPC, a Talkspace therapist based in NYC, adds that keeping your therapist in the loop also helps them better monitor progress. “It’s especially important now, with new stressors emerging in our news cycle every day,” she says.
That said, it’s important to note that therapists aren’t available to respond to your messages 24/7. They’ll likely respond a couple of times per day, usually during business hours.
From a user’s perspective, Alicia Butler, who runs the site Adulting and has tried therapy numerous times with different companies, enjoyed the real-time support and found that stopping to fire off a text was helpful to “change tracks” when she was feeling upset, making it therapeutic in its own right. “The simple act of texting a therapist removed me from my intense feelings and almost acted as a journal to get those feelings into writing to help work through them,” she says.
The cost of traditional therapy is a barrier for some. While text therapy is certainly still a significant investment in its own right, it often comes at a more affordable price point, making it accessible to more people. Talkspace, for example, offers unlimited messaging therapy that includes text, audio, and video messaging for $65 a week. Just one session with a therapist in a traditional setting can often cost significantly more than that.
Convenience is another one of text therapy’s most alluring features because it can be done from virtually anywhere at any time. If you’ve got an issue that you need help sorting through, you don’t have to block off an entire hour in your calendar. You just have to carve out a minute or two and shoot your therapist a text.
Butler’s favorite feature of therapy via text was, in fact, the convenience of it. “If I thought of a question or felt frustrated, I could just text the therapist, knowing she’d get back to me whenever she could,” she says. “I also liked not going into an office, which adds another layer of stress to my week.”
The downside of therapy via text
One con of text therapy is that written messages can often be misinterpreted. Through a text, Dr. Whatley says, your therapist can’t access voice inflection and emotions or see your body language, which can often convey a lot more than the actual words you are saying or writing.
Nonetheless, Dr. Whatley adds, it can be helpful for people to get their feelings off their chest via a text and feel validated and heard from their therapist. Any type of trauma therapy, however, she says, is better done in a traditional therapy session.
For Butler, the downside of text-based therapy was that it didn’t feel quite as thoughtful as a regular therapy session. “I felt like I was just downloading my feelings on an app without taking the time to organize my thoughts and digest the events I was upset about beforehand,” she says.
Who therapy via text is a good choice for
All in all, everyone can benefit from therapy via text as they would from traditional therapy. It comes down to personal preference. It’s definitely not for everyone. “It was helpful, but I felt that it wasn’t for me in the end,” Butler says. “Instead of carving out one hour a week to really focus on my self-development, it felt like I was half-in/half-out most of the time.”
With that said, according to Dr. Whatley, “therapy via text is better than no therapy.” It can be a great option for folks who want to dip their toes into therapy for the first time, are too busy to squeeze in full sessions, or can’t afford traditional therapy. Or better yet, Dr. Whatley says, it could serve as a great supplement to conventional therapy for support in between sessions.